South African energy and chemical company Sasol is progressing on construction of an $8.1 billion ethane cracker facility in Calcasieu Parish, La.

The first phase broke ground in March 2015 and includes construction of an ethane cracker and seven chemical manufacturing plants on a 400-acre site in Westlake, just outside of Lake Charles.

Mike Hayes, Sasol public affairs manager, told local NBC affiliate KPLC 7 in early November that construction crews have spent the past seven months on site prep, which included removing dirt, replacing it with structural soil, and driving pilings. Contractors recently finished the foundation and new structures for the ethane cracker.

"We're starting to build operating units. So we're making the transition from site prep to actual facility construction," said Hayes.

Hayes says a main substation is currently being constructed on site to deliver power to operating units. Drums, columns and boilers are also being transported to the site from the dock property on the Calcasieu River. The first phase also covers the construction and expansion of roads for heavy haul routes.

Louisiana-based contractors involved in the project include Cajun Constructors Inc (foundation and pilings), James Industrial Constructors (foundation and pilings), ISC Constructors (electrical and instrumentation), MMR Constructors (electrical and instrumentation) and Turner Industries (structural steel, mechanical and piping work). Fluor Technip Integrated, a joint venture between Fluor Corp. and Technip of Irving, Texas, is serving as the construction management contractor.

Hayes says there are currently 2,500 temporary construction workers on the project who recently completed 3 million man hours without a medical incident.

Mechanical, electrical and instrumentation work is expected to begin in 2016 and 2017 with a projected 5,000 workers on site at the peak of construction.

The cracker will produce roughly 1.5 million tons of ethylene annually. Ethylene is a chemical used to make plastics such as bottles and is also a key ingredient in detergents, fragrances, synthetic fibers and other petrochemical products.

The facility is expected to be completed and operational in 2018.